Urgent Interventions

Turkey: Judiciary harassment against human rights defenders


Continuing Judicial Harassment Against Human Rights Defenders

Ankara / TURKEY, 28 February 2002 - In the framework of their joint programme, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights defenders, the FIDH and the OMCT sent an observer to Turkey to attend the trial against the members of the Turkish NGO “GIYAV” (Migration and Humanitarian Assistance Foundation), before the State Security Court of Adana, on February 26, 2003.

GIYAV, whose mandate is to provide economic, social, cultural and legal assistance to persons subjected to forced migration, including internal displaced women and street children, was founded in 1999 in Mersin by a group of well-known persons including law practitioners, human rights advocates, academics and NGO representatives.

Administrators and founding members of GIYAV are currently facing legal proceedings on the grounds of article 169 of the Turkish Penal Code entitled “abetting and harbouring an outlawed organisation”. A prison sentence of up to 7,5 years has been requested with the lawsuit. Members were present at the hearing and represented by their lawyer, Mr Özgür Özbek, member of the Mersin bar. The trial was postponed to May 14, 2003 in order to allow three members, who were not present at the hearing, to present their defence.

This trial against the organisation GIYAV forms part of a wider government harassment strategy to sanction human rights NGOs through the use of the judiciary and to exclude civil society voices from the discourse on matters that touch people’s daily lives, as is so clearly the case with economic, social and cultural rights, particularly in South Eastern Turkey.

The FIDH and the OMCT recall that the U.N. Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement provide that international humanitarian organisation and other appropriate actors have the right to offer their services in support of internally displaced persons, and that such organisations should have unimpeded access to internally displaced persons. However, in practice, the Turkish government has consistently cut non-state agencies out of the whole return plans process (“Village Return and Rehabilitation Project” for internally displaced persons) and NGOs have never been invited to give their input. Far from providing “appropriate actors” access to the internally displaced, the authorities have relentlessly persecuted organisations, including GIYAV, that provide assistance to them.

At the moment, access by NGOs to the Southeast is extremely difficult. At a meeting held a few minutes after the hearing, GIYAV’ executive members have voiced their concerns concerning the current situation in the former South Eastern provinces under the State of Emergency Rules (OHAL). Although armed conflict between government forces and the opposition Kurdistan Workers Party (KADEK-PKK) had virtually ended by 2000, and the State of Emergency Rule in the Kurdish regions was lifted on 30 November 2002, marking the official end of 15 years of emergency security measures in Turkey’s East and Southeast, the repression of human rights organisations, pro-Kurdish political parties and villagers has continued.

Under the State of Emergency Law of 1983 and additional decrees, the Emergency Region Governor had extraordinary powers to move populations, limit the right of assembly and ban the distribution of publications. As far as human rights NGOs are concerned, the Human Rights Association’ (IHD) and the Human Rights Foundation in Turkey’ branch offices have been regularly raided and/or closed, and their members have regularly faced repression, including harassment and judicial prosecutions .

This week, the Turkish government is precisely considering reinstating State of Emergency Rule in the Southeast, namely in the cities of Diyarbakir, Batman, Sirnak, Siirt, Van and Hakkari to “maintain order” in case of war in Irak.

While acknowledging that Turkey’s recent efforts and reforms have produced significant changes in law, the FIDH and the OMCT stress that very few concrete changes in practice are as yet apparent in Turkey. In this context, our organisations recall the urgent need for Turkey to ensure that changes in theory are matched by equivalent action. In the EU accession partnership’ context, this will also evaluate Turkey’s will to effectively implement democratic principles and practices which are one of the pillars of the European Union.

The FIDH and the OMCT especially urge the Turkish authorities to affirm the role of civil society in general and the valuable contribution of human rights organisations in the construction of the Rule of Law; to put an end to judicial harassment against human rights defenders and in particular to ensure that the charges against GIYAV members be dropped on the occasion of the next audience in May, since they only aim to sanction their activities as human rights defenders; to conform to the disposals of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1998, in particular article 9.3.c according to which “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to offer and provide professionally qualified assistance in defending human rights and fundamental freedoms”; to conform with all human rights instruments ratified by Turkey, as well as with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

For further information please call :
FIDH: 00 33 1 43 55 25 18 - OMCT: 00 41 22 809 49 24
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